For-Profit Secret Army
to Alternative Reader Index
the war on terror already a year old and the possibility of war against Iraq
growing by the day, a modern version of an ancient practice — one as old as
warfare itself — is reasserting itself at the Pentagon. Mercenaries, as they
were once known, are thriving — only this time they are called private
military contractors, and some are even subsidiaries of Fortune 500 companies.
PENTAGON CANNOT GO TO WAR WITHOUT THEM Often run by retired military officers,
including three- and four-star generals, private military contractors are the
new business face of war. Blurring the line between military and civilian, they
provide stand-ins for active soldiers in everything from logistical support to
battlefield training and military advice at home and abroad. Some are helping to
conduct training exercises using live ammunition for American troops in Kuwait,
under the code name Desert Spring. One has just been hired to guard President
Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan, the target of a recent assassination attempt.
Another is helping to write the book on airport security. Others have employees
who don their old uniforms to work under contract as military recruiters and
instructors in R.O.T.C. classes, selecting and training the next generation of
the darker recesses of the world, private contractors go where the Pentagon
would prefer not to be seen, carrying out military exercises for the American
government, far from Washington's view. In the last few years, they have sent
their employees to Bosnia, Nigeria, Macedonia, Colombia and other global hot
as much by profits as politics, these companies — about 35 all told in the
United States — need the government's permission to be in business. A few are
somewhat familiar names, like Kellogg Brown & Root, a subsidiary of the
Halliburton Company that operates for the government in Cuba and Central Asia.
Others have more cryptic names, like DynCorp; Vinnell, a subsidiary of TRW; SAIC;
ICI of Oregon; and Logicon, a unit of Northrop Grumman. One of the best known,
MPRI, boasts of having "more generals per square foot than in the
Pentagon." During the Persian Gulf war in 1991, one of every 50 people on
the battlefield was an American civilian under contract; by the time of the
peacekeeping effort in Bosnia in 1996, the figure was one in 10. No one knows
for sure how big this secretive industry is, but some military experts estimate
the global market at $100 billion. As for the public companies that own private
military contractors, they say little if anything about them to shareholders.
are indispensible," said John J. Hamre, deputy secretary of defense in the
Clinton administration. "Will there be more in the future? Yes, and they
are not just running the soup kitchens." That means even more business, and
profits, for contractors who perform tasks as mundane as maintaining barracks
for overseas troops, as sophisticated as operating weapon systems or as
secretive as intelligence-gathering in Africa. Many function near, or even at,
the front lines, causing concern among military strategists about their safety
and commitment if bullets start to fly.
use of military contractors raises other troubling questions as well. In peace,
they can act as a secret army outside of public view. In war, while providing
functions crucial to the combat effort, they are not soldiers. Private
contractors are not obligated to take orders or to follow military codes of
conduct. Their legal obligation is solely to an employment contract, not to
military contractors are flushing out drug traffickers in Colombia and turning
the rag-tag militias of African nations into fighting machines. When a United
Nations arms embargo restricted the American military in the Balkans, private
military contractors were sent instead to train the local forces.
times, the results have been disastrous
Bosnia, employees of DynCorp were found to be operating a sex-slave ring of
young women who were held for prostitution after their passports were
confiscated. In Croatia, local forces, trained by MPRI, used what they learned
to conduct one of the worst episodes of "ethnic cleansing," an event
that left more than 100,000 homeless and hundreds dead and resulted in
war-crimes indictments. No employee of either firm has ever been charged in
Peru last year, a plane carrying an American missionary and her infant was
accidentally shot down when a private military contractor misidentified it as on
a drug smuggling flight.
formerly known as Military Professionals Resources Inc., may provide the best
example of how skilled retired soldiers cash in on their military training. Its
roster includes Gen. Carl E. Vuono, the former Army chief of staff who led the
gulf war and the Panama invasion; Gen. Crosbie E. Saint, the former commander of
the United States Army in Europe; and Gen. Ron Griffith, the former Army vice
chief of staff. There are also dozens of retired top-ranked generals, an admiral
and more than 10,000 former military personnel, including elite special forces,
on call and ready for assignment.
can have 20 qualified people on the Serbian border within 24 hours," said
Lt. Gen. Harry E. Soyster, the company's spokesman and a former director of the
Defense Intelligence Agency. "The Army can't do that. But contractors
that, MPRI is paid well. Its revenue exceeds $100 million a year, mainly from
Pentagon and State Department contracts. Retired military personnel working for
MPRI receive two to three times their Pentagon salaries, in addition to their
retirement benefits and corporate benefits like stock options and 401(k) plans.
MPRI's founders became millionaires in July 2000, when they and about 35 equity
holders sold the company for $40 million in cash to L-3 Communications, a
military contractor traded on the New York Stock Exchange.
the military, the use of contractors is Defense Department policy for filling
the gaps as the number of troops falls. At the time of the gulf war, there were
780,000 Army troops; today there are 480,000. Over the same period, overall
military forces have fallen by 500,000.
officials did not respond to many telephone calls and e-mail messages requesting
interviews, but they have maintained that contractors are a cost-effective way
of extending the military's reach when Congress and the American public are
reluctant to pay for more soldiers.
main reason for using a contractor is that it saves you from having to use
troops, so troops can focus on war fighting," said Col. Thomas W. Sweeney,
a professor of strategic logistics at the Army War College in Carlisle, Pa.
"It's cheaper because you only pay for contractors when you use them."
one person's cost-saving device can be another's "guns for hire," as
David Hackworth, a former Army colonel and frequent critic of the military,
new mercenaries work for the Defense and State Department and Congress looks the
other way," Colonel Hackworth, a highly decorated Vietnam veteran, said.
"It's a very dangerous situation. It allows us to get into fights where we
would be reluctant to send the Defense Department or the C.I.A. The American
taxpayer is paying for our own mercenary army, which violates what our founding
fathers said." They are not mercenaries in the classic sense. Most, but not
all, private military contractors are unarmed, even when they oversee others
with guns. They have even formed a trade group, the International Peace
Operations Association, to promote industry standards.
don't want to risk getting contracts by being called mercenaries," said
Doug Brooks, president of the association. "But we can do things on short
notice and keep our mouths shut."
some critics say, is part of the problem. By using for-profit soldiers, the
government, especially the executive branch, can evade Congressional limits on
troop strength. For instance, in Bosnia, where a cap of 20,000 troops was
imposed by Congress, the addition of 2,000 contractors helped skirt that
also allow the administration to carry out foreign policy goals in low-level
skirmishes around the globe — often fueled by ethnic hatreds and a surplus of
cold war weapons — without having to fear the media attention that comes if
American soldiers are sent home in body bags.
least five DynCorp employees have been killed in Latin America, with no public
outcry. Denial is easier for the government when those working overseas do not
wear uniforms — they often wear fatigues or military-looking clothes but not
you sent in troops, someone will know; if contractors, they may not," said
Deborah Avant, an associate professor of political science at George Washington
University and author of many studies on the subject.
a few members of congress have expressed concern about the phenomenon
are inherent difficulties with the increasing use of contactors to carry out
U.S. foreign policy," said Senator Patrick J. Leahy, Democrat of Vermont
and the chairman of the foreign operations subcommittee. "This is
especially true when it involves `private' soldiers who are not as accountable
as U.S. military personnel. Accountability is a serious issue when it comes to
carrying guns or flying helicopters in pursuit of U.S. foreign policy
goals." In the House, Representative Jan Schakowsky, an Illinois Democrat,
led the battle against a Bush administration effort to remove the cap that
limits the number of American troops in Colombia to 500 and private contractors
taxpayers already pay $300 billion a year to fund the world's most powerful
military," Ms. Schakowsky said. "Why should they have to pay a second
time in order to privatize our operations? Are we outsourcing in order to avoid
public scrutiny, controversy or embarrassment? Is it to hide body bags from the
media and thus shield them from public opinion?"
concerns are hardly slowing the pace across the Potomac, at MPRI in Alexandria,
Va. The company may look like hundreds of other white-collar concerns that fill
small office buildings in northern Virginia, but there are telltale signs to the
contrary: the sword that serves as the corporate logo and conference rooms named
the Infantry Room, the Cavalry Room and the Artillery Room. Its art consists of
paintings of celebrated battles, largely from the Civil War.
hard to tell where the United States military ends and MPRI begins. For the last
four years, MPRI has run R.O.T.C. training programs at more than 200
universities, under a contract that has allowed retired military to put their
uniforms back on. It recently lost the contract to a lower bidder, but MPRI
offset the loss with one to provide former soldiers to run recruitment offices.
The company, which has 900 full-time employees, helps run the United States Army
Force Management School at Fort Belvoir. It also provides instructors for
advanced training classes at Fort Leavenworth, teaches the Civil Air Patrol and
designs courses at Fort Sill, Fort Knox, Fort Lee and other military centers.
Pentagon has even hired MPRI to help it write military doctrine — including
the field manual called "Contractors Support on the Battlefield" that
sets rules for how the Army should interact with private contractors, like
MPRI is, if anything, more active. Under a program it calls "democracy
transition," the company has offered countries like Nigeria, Bosnia, Saudi
Arabia, Taiwan, Ukraine, Croatia and Macedonia training in American-style
warfare, including war games, military instruction and weapons training.
Croatia, MPRI was brought in to provide border monitors in the early 1990's.
Then, in 1994, as the United States grew concerned about the poor quality of the
Croatian forces and their ability to maintain regional stability, it turned to
MPRI. A United Nations arms embargo in 1991, approved by the United States,
prohibited the sale of weapons or the providing of training to any warring party
in the Balkans. But the Pentagon referred MPRI to Croatia's defense minister,
who hired the company to train its forces.
1995, MPRI started doing so, teaching the fledgling army military tactics that
MPRI executives had developed while on active duty commanding the gulf war
invasion. Several months later, armed with this
new training, the Croatian army began Operation Storm, one of the bloodiest
episodes of "ethnic cleansing" in the Balkans, an event that also
reshaped the military balance in the region.
operation drove more than 100,000 Serbs from their homes in a four-day assault.
Investigators for the international war crimes tribunal in the Hague found that
the Croatian army carried out summary executions and indiscriminately shelled
civilians. "In a widespread and systematic matter, Croatian troops
committed murder and other inhumane acts," investigators said in their
report. Several Croatian generals in charge of the operation have been indicted
for war crimes and are being sought for trial.
MPRI employee played a role in planning, monitoring or assisting in Operation
Storm," said Lieutenant General Soyster, the MPRI spokesman. He did say
that a few Croatian graduates of MPRI's training course participated in the
what happened in Croatia gave MPRI international brand recognition and more
business in that region. When Bosnian Muslims balked in 1995 at signing the
Dayton peace accords out of fear that their army was ill-equipped to provide
sufficient protection, MPRI was called in.
Bosnians said they would not sign unless they had help building their
army," said Peter Singer, a foreign policy fellow at the Brookings
Institution who is writing a book on contractors. "And they said they
wanted the same guys who helped the Croatians."
is who they got. Under a plan worked out by American negotiators, the Bosnian
Muslims hired MPRI using money that was provided by a group of Islamic nations,
including Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Brunei, the United Arab Emirates and Malaysia.
These nations deposited money in the United States Treasury, which MPRI drew
was a brilliant move in that the U.S. government got someone else to pay for
what we wanted from a policy standpoint," Mr. Singer said. At the moment,
MPRI is advertising for special forces for antiterrorist operations, is bulking
up to train American forces in Kuwait and is looking for people with special
skills like basic-training instruction and counterintelligence. Recently,
however, it lost a $4.3 million contract to provide training to the army in
Colombia when officials there complained about what they called the poor quality
of MPRI's services.
Africa, MPRI has conducted training programs on security issues for about 120
African leaders and more than 5,500 African troops. Most recently, it went toe
to toe with the State Department, and won, gaining permission to do business in
Equatorial Guinea, a country with a deplorable human rights record where the
United States does not have an embassy.
two years of lobbying at the State Department, and after being turned down twice
on human rights grounds, MPRI was finally given approval last year to work with
President Teodoro Obiang Nguema, whom the State Department describes as holding
power through torture, fraud and a 98 percent election mandate. MPRI advised
President Obiang on building a coast guard to protect the oil-rich waters being
explored by Exxon Mobil off the coast.
recently, when MPRI and President Obiang proposed that MPRI also help the
country build its police and military forces, the State Department objected and
the project is now dormant.
thought helping the coast guard would be pretty innocuous in terms of human
rights," Lieutenant General Soyster of MPRI said. But Ms. Avant of George
Washington University disagreed, saying any alliance with United States military
contractors would strengthen President Obiang's power.
is not the only company to have run into problems overseas. DynCorp, a privately
held company in Reston, Va., with nearly $2 billion in annual sales, has been
tapped to provide protection for Mr. Karzai in Afghanistan. DynCorp also
provides worldwide protective services for State Department employees.
late September, DynCorp settled charges — for an undisclosed sum — brought
by a whistle-blower the company had fired after he complained of a sex ring run
by DynCorp employees in Bosnia. In August, a British court, meanwhile, ruled in
favor of another former DynCorp employee in a separate whistle-blower case.
DynCorp is appealing. The two employees made similar accusations: that while
working in Bosnia, where DynCorp was providing military equipment maintenance
services, DynCorp employees kept underaged women as sex slaves, even videotaping
a rape. Among the charges was that while the DynCorp employees trafficked in
women — including buying one for $1,000 — the company turned a blind eye.
Since the DynCorp employees involved were not soldiers, their actions were not
subject to military discipline. Nor did they face local justice; they were
simply fired and sent home.In both cases, after complaining, the two employees
who blew the whistle were fired. Ben Johnston, one of them, said last April in
Congressional testimony: "DynCorp employees were living off post and owning
these children and these women and girls as slaves. Well, that makes all
Americans look bad. I believe DynCorp is the worst diplomat our country could
ever want overseas."
DynCorp spokesman, Chuck Taylor, said the company "felt horrible" and
held its own internal investigation before firing the employees who operated the
also handles aerial anti-narcotics efforts for the United States government in
the skies over Colombia and nearby countries — where several employees have
been killed. Because of Congressional caps on the use of private military
contractors, DynCorp has hired local citizens; two were recently killed.
in its recruiting material, the company plays up the excitement of this type of
work: "Being the best is never easy and when your office is the cockpit of
a twin-engine plane swooping low over the Colombian jungle, the challenges can
often be enormous." Incidents like these — sex rings, deals with
dictators, misused military training and tragic accidents — raise questions
about the use of contractors. To whom are they accountable: the United States
government or their contract? When such incidents occur, who bears the
while the general mantra about military privatization is that it saves money,
there are few studies to prove the case — and in fact, reports exist to the
instance, Kellogg Brown & Root, which was paid $2.2 billion to provide
logistics support to American troops in the Balkans, was the subject of a
General Accounting Office report entitled, "Army Should Do More to Control
Contract Costs in the Balkans." The office found that the Army was not
exercising enough oversight on Kellogg Brown & Root as contract costs rose,
to the benefit of the company. Still, the company continues to pick up new
about security and control are even more basic. In the battlefield, a commander
cannot give orders to a contractor as he can a soldier. Contractors are not
compelled by an oath of office, as soldiers are, but instead by an employment
contract that provides little flexibility. Nor are contractors subject to the
Uniform Code of Military Justice.
cannot arm themselves — they risk losing their status as noncombatants if they
do and, in the extreme, could be declared mercenaries and subject to execution
if captured. Yet in the gulf war, contractors were in the thick of battle,
providing maintenance to tanks and biological and chemical vehicles as well as
flying air support.
there be a war in Iraq, the line could be even blurrier."There are no rear
areas anymore," Colonel Sweeney of the Army War College said. With chemical
and biological weapons, "no place is safe," he said.
can't draw a map and say `no contractors forward of this line,' " he added.
"The American concept of combat is to take the battle to the rear areas and
be as disruptive as possible. The other guy is thinking the same thing."
tenet of warfare is that soldiers handling support functions can grab a gun and
hit the front lines if needed. While this is often dismissed as a quaint World
War II concept, it happened in Somalia in 1993 when Army rangers were in trouble
and military supply clerks came to their rescue. When the support staff is
filled with contractors, would they do the same? Or would commanders in the
field become responsible for the safety of the growing number of contractor
employees at the expense of advancing the battle?
issue is just beginning to generate some attention in military circles.
sort of blur the lines," Col. Steven J. Zamparelli of the Air Force said in
an interview. In an article in 1999 for the Air Force Journal of Logistics,
Colonel Zamaparelli said: "The Department of Defense is gambling future
military victory on contractors' performing operational functions in the
in the military are more blunt about the effect on soldiers. "Are we
ultimately trading their blood to save a relatively insignificant amount in the
national budget?" said Lt. Col. Lourdes A. Castillo of the Air Force, a
logistics expert, in a 2000 article in Aerospace Power Journal. "If this
grand experiment ndertaken by our national leadership fails during wartime, the
results will be unthinkable.
13, 2002 Bulatlat.com
want to know what you think of this article.